Jacobs to Restore Oyster Reefs along Gulf Coast
Sharing a passion for natural infrastructure as a viable way to increase coastal and climate change resilience, The Nature Conservancy and Jacobs collaborate on the Pensacola East Bay Oyster Habitat Restoration Project. In 2016, The Nature Conservancy selected Jacobs to manage the monitoring, permitting and design of a restoration project, the Pensacola East Bay Oyster Habitat Restoration Project, along a 6.5 mile stretch of shoreline, which will help restore a healthy, functioning oyster habitat in East Bay near Pensacola, Florida. This program is a multi-year effort to restore this critical estuarine habitat that has been significantly reduced from its former range across the Gulf’s bays and estuaries. TNC selected Jacobs for this project because of its in-house ecology, modeling, coastal engineering and design experience on oyster habitats and living shoreline projects, combined with its local homegrown knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico.
A recent milestone on the project was reached when construction workers started to place 33 oyster reefs along the Santa Rosa County shoreline. The reefs will benefit the oyster fishery, wildlife, water quality and nearshore habitats. The project aligns with the Oyster Fisheries and Habitat Management Plan, which was developed by local stakeholders in partnership with TNC, to improve the resilience and sustainability of the oysters in the Pensacola Bay System. Implementation of the oyster management plan will be led by the Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program.
The restoration project is funded by a $15 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) through funding from the settlement of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Oyster reefs are considered one of the planet’s most imperiled marine habitats. Over the past two centuries, more than 85 percent of the world’s oyster reefs have been lost. This statistic rings true in most of Florida’s bays and estuaries, including Pensacola. Oyster reefs face a variety of threats, including overharvesting, disease, pollution, and damage from boat traffic. TNC is working to restore these critical ecosystems in Florida and around the world.
Jacobs has designed the reef structures to maximize oyster settlement and success under specific local conditions, enabled by collecting and reviewing data from over two years of pre-construction monitoring and an intensive design and engineering process. The reefs will be constructed of limestone rock of select sizes and oyster shell. They will be placed between 200-500 feet off the east shores of East and Blackwater Bays in about 4 feet of water and may be visible at low tides during certain times of the year.
Once completed, the reefs will offer a place for oysters to settle, grow and contribute to the ecosystem by filtering water and providing an important habitat for commercially and recreationally valuable finfish, crabs, shrimp and birds. These reefs may also serve as a source of oyster larvae for the adjacent harvestable reefs restored by the state. Monitoring will continue for up to five years following the completion of construction.